IN THE LEDGE – How are we to feel safe with more oil being shipped by rail?

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

Debate during Question Period in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 between Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone and Environment Minister George Heyman, who took the questions Stone was asking of Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.

T. Stone: Over 229,000 barrels of oil are shipped via rail every single day in Canada. That’s up from just under 93,000 barrels of oil shipped every single day back in July of 2017. The International Energy Agency further suggests that the volumes will double again over the next couple of years.

We all know that oil shipped via rail is inherently riskier than via pipelines. My question is to the Minister of Transportation. Can she explain to the people of Kamloops how they’re supposed to feel safe when there’s an ever-increasing volume of oil being shipped via rail, as opposed to being shipped by the much safer pipeline.

Hon. G. Heyman: Of course, it’s curious to us on this side of the House that the opposition is suddenly interested in the risks of bitumen by rail, after they ignored it while they were in government.

That’s precisely why this government brought in regulations to protect the public interest from the deleterious impacts of a bitumen spill, whether it’s through a pipeline or whether it’s by rail. That’s why we’ve asked, through our powers under the Environmental Management Act, for rail companies to tell us the volumes, tell us the routes, so that we can protect British Columbians from the impacts of a bitumen spill, whether it is by tanker, by pipeline or by rail.

Mr. Speaker: Kamloops–South Thompson on a supplemental.

T. Stone: The NDP government has been so focused on pleasing their activist friends that apparently they have forgotten about the dozens of B.C. communities that will be affected by a spill of oil when it’s being shipped on rail. Communities like Valemount and Blue River. Communities like Kamloops and Ashcroft. Communities like Abbotsford and Langley. These are communities that would actually be affected.

As reported by CBC: “Crude-by-rail exports surge in Canada as pipeline restraints squeeze oil industry.” CN Rail has also recently reported a 50 percent increase during their third quarter to date, compared to the same time last year. Their CFO has said that the Trans Mountain delay has “added years to crude by rail.”

Of course, we know that Alberta Premier Notley is urging Ottawa to further boost the volume of oil that is shipped by rail. I think we can, again, all agree that shipping oil by rail is much riskier than shipping that oil in a safe pipeline.

My question to the Minister of Transportation is this. How is the Transportation Minister protecting those dozens of B.C. communities which are now at greater risk of a rail spill due to this government’s reckless war on the much safer Trans Mountain Pipeline project?

Hon. G. Heyman: It’s interesting that the official opposition continues to blame the British Columbia government for the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, but I’ll go on to say that we’re protecting the interests of British Columbia in protecting our environment, coast and economy in all the ways that they refused to do when they were in government. As I mentioned, we introduced new regulations governing oil by rail as well as by pipeline to increase spill preparedness and response, including requirements for contingency plans, drills, exercises and plans for recovery.

But the member opposite really should get his facts straight before he attempts to fearmonger with British Columbians. The vast majority of shipments of oil by rail do not go through B.C. They enter the U.S. through Montana or North Dakota, and according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, shipments of oil by rail through the Lower Mainland actually dropped by 76 percent in the first half of this year.

Mr. Speaker: Kamloops–South Thompson on a second supplemental.

T. Stone: Again, thanks to this NDP government, British Columbians now own a pipeline that they didn’t want to buy. And British Columbia is at much greater risk than ever before for the very spills which this government said they were going to make sure didn’t happen. We’re talking about the Thompson River here. We’re talking about the Fraser River here. This increased risk to public safety, this increased risk to communities like Valemount, like Abbotsford, this increased risk to public safety falls squarely at the feet of the NDP government.

B.C.’s Transportation Minister….


Mr. Speaker: Members.

T. Stone: The Transportation Minister has been silent about the increased safety risk posed by this increase in oil by rail, aside from on March 6, where she said: “We are talking about a federally regulated system. The line is federally regulated. I’m not in a position to talk yes or no.” The actions of the federal government are pretty clear. The actions of the Alberta government are pretty clear. When is this Transportation Minister going to actually do something on this file?

Hon. G. Heyman: The actions of the official opposition are entirely clear. They refuse to stand up for British Columbians, for our environment, for our coast or for our economy. We’ve been clear. We said that we were concerned about the impacts of a spill on B.C.’s coastline. We said that the National Energy Board had failed to adequately consider that risk. We said that the federal government, therefore, had not adequately considered that risk or adequately consulted with First Nations.

The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with us. As much as the opposition would like to overturn that decision in this Legislature, it is simply not in their purview. We will continue to defend British Columbians’ interests.

Source: B.C. Hansard.

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3 Comments on IN THE LEDGE – How are we to feel safe with more oil being shipped by rail?

  1. Tony Brumell // November 6, 2018 at 3:41 PM // Reply

    I find it very interesting that Mr Stone is so focussed on oil by being more dangerous than oil by pipe. Not so !!!
    As a past employee of one of the national RR’s through BC it is a simple fact that when oil is shipped by rail ,that while it is inherantly more likely to have a failure it is also inherant that any failure will be far far smaller,do less damage and be easier to clean up.In any train wreck you will get a limited number of cars going off the track.Of those only a small percentage will break and thus the spill is small in relation to a broken pipeline.
    When a pipe breaks the safety valves are supposed to close quickly.Even if they do (not a guarentee )you still have several kilometers of full pipe to empty out onto the land or into the water.The volume will nominally be much greater than even several RR cars.It is within the perview of the province to reduce the speed of the trains .And so, as with automobiles (As Mr Stone must now recognise ) A slow train wreck will kill fewer people and do less damage to the environment.If the gov’t lowers the speed of a two hundred car unit train to 60 km/H the chances of a derailment ,much less a broken or perforated and leaking car are substantially decreased .
    If the RR has an inplace incident action plan then the effects will be far less than from a pipeline break.Each train would carry most of the equipment needed to curtail a multi car breakup.This might include wrap around patches and absorbant booms to control spread .
    It should also be noted that if a pipeline (in which the oil is shipped very hot) is shut down due to emergency ,the oil starts to cool down and congeal in a short amount of time .This characteristic makes it extremely difficult and expensive to remove or reheat all the oil left in the (now static ) pipeline and remobilize it.
    This also means that when we “Mature ” to the point of leaving the oil in the ground that there is not a huge pipeline infrastructure left in the ground ,As it was on the KM pipe abandoned through the origional Jacko lake diversion.It’s still there and maybe full of concrete.This is hugely expensive and wastefull of resources.

  2. Ian M MacKenzie // November 6, 2018 at 7:29 AM // Reply

    I think Stone SHOULD be asking ” when are you going to put pressure on the federal government to bite the bullet, accept that oil pipelines will never again be built in Canada, stop subsidizing an increase in fossil fuels, transfer those subsidies over to the development of a renewable energies industry, and get on with the future!”

  3. How are we safe in an increasingly unpredictable weather? How are we safe in an increasingly polluted environment? How are we safe in an increasingly polarized political landscape?
    Besides, the pipeline runs in many places not far from aquifers, creeks and other bodies of water.

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